Syria clashes between regime and extremists kill 45 fighters
Clashes between pro-government forces and extremist-led groups that control Syria’s northwest killed at least 45 combatants on Tuesday, a war monitor said.
The fighting flared on the edge of Hama province when extremist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham launched a dawn attack on regime positions, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
At least 14 pro-government forces died in ensuing clashes, said the Britain-based monitor.
“Regime forces foiled the attack,” Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman told AFP.
State news agency SANA also said the offensive had been thwarted.
Hama’s northern countryside lies on the edge of a extremist-controlled region including most of Idlib province.
The frontline had been relatively calm since clashes on Saturday killed more than 35 combatants, including extremists and regime forces, Abdul Rahman said.
Regime airstrikes on northern Hama and neighbouring Idlib had also paused for more than 24 hours, before resuming Tuesday following the latest bout of fighting, according to the monitor. The bombardment killed one civilian in southern Idlib, it said.
The latest battles come after rocket fire by HTS — led by a former Al-Qaeda affiliate — and allied rebels killed more than 12 civilians in a regime-held village in Aleppo province late Sunday.
Parts of Aleppo, Hama and Idlib are supposed to be protected from a massive regime offensive by a buffer zone deal that Russia and Turkey signed in September.
But it was never fully implemented as jihadists refused to withdraw from a planned demilitarised zone.
In January, HTS extended its administrative control over the region, which includes most of Idlib province as well as adjacent slivers of Latakia, Hama and Aleppo provinces.
The Syrian government and Russia have upped their bombardment of the region since late April, killing more than 400 civilians, according to the Observatory.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011 with the repression of anti-government protests. The UN Security Council will meet Tuesday in open session to discuss Syria where intense fighting is playing out between pro-government and extremist-led forces, diplomats said.
Such a meeting was not on the council agenda for the day but it was requested by Belgium, Germany and Kuwait, non-permanent council members overseeing UN humanitarian operations in Syria, a diplomat said.
The United States asked that political aspects of the conflict also be addressed at the meeting. Speeches by the UN under-secretaries general for political and for humanitarian affairs, Rosemary DiCarlo and Mark Lowcock, are expected, another diplomat said.
In May, the council held several meetings on Syria and the situation in the rebel-held province of Idlib. The UN feared a humanitarian catastrophe if fighting in the northwest region continued. In recent weeks, Idlib has been the target of nearly daily bombardments by the Syrian regime and its ally Russia.
The region was designated a demilitarized zone in September under an agreement between Russia and Turkey. This spared Idlib a major offensive.
The spike in violence in the province that is home to around three million people has left more than 400 people dead since late April and displaced 270,000 others, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
Syria’s war began in 2011 and has now claimed more than 370,000 lives. Several million more have been displaced.
Meanwhile, Lebanon said it had arrested a Syrian suspected of links to the Daesh group who was plotting attacks on Christian and Shiite sites in the south of the country
The Internal Security Forces (ISF) said they “tracked down and identified a man in southern Lebanon who actively publishes Daesh propaganda on social media networks and recruits new members” for the extremists group.
The suspect, a 20-year-old Syrian national from the south Lebanon village of Yater, was in contact with people abroad who helped him set up social networking sites to disseminate Daesh propaganda, it said in a statement.